Growing up, I always had homemade birthday cakes made my momma, often with assistance from my dad. Seeing my momma work her piping bag to create all kinds of schmancy cakes for our birthdays influenced me to learn the art young, and I’ve been building pretty pastries since junior high school. I picked up the skills my mom has had for years, and then branched out into the really fancy stuff, like gum paste modeling, later on. There hasn’t been much time for baking over the last few years, since my work life is insanely busy, but sometimes special events call for the extra effort involved in a homemade cake.
It only made sense, clearly, that I should make the wedding cake for my elopement with The Electrician on August 17th. I’ve done wedding cakes for loved ones before, so it wasn’t a big deal to make one for ourselves. While we were technically “eloping,” it was important to me to include at least some of the trimmings of a more traditional wedding, the cake being high on my list of “must-haves.” Ever the practical party in this relationship, The Electrician suggested we order a slab cake from Safeway rather than me putting the work into something homemade and tiered; I related it to me wearing blue jeans to the altar instead of a little white dress. There are simply some things a girl needs to actually feel like a bride.
On a rainy day at the beginning of July, I baked red velvet cake for what certainly felt like forever. I had to take advantage of the first cold and drizzly day Mother Nature had provided in weeks, so I fired up my stand mixer and baked round layers in my 10″ and 6″ pans. You may remember the incident where Sherman stole part of a pound cake off the kitchen counter. What I didn’t share, due to pre-matrimonial secrecy in the planning stages of our big day, was that Sherman also stole a layer of red velvet cake less than a week later while the pieces of our wedding cake were cooling on the counter.
And that was the day Sherman was very nearly sold on e-Bay, under the heading, “Very, Very Bad Dog: Significant Sweet Tooth.” In case you’re wondering, he did have burgundy poop for three days. Actually, you probably weren’t wondering: my apologies.
At any rate, I baked three batches of red velvet cake, followed by a fourth emergency round to replace the one inside the (bad) dog. Then I brushed them all with simple syrup flavoured with vanilla and almond, wrapped them snugly with plastic and then tin foil, and tucked them into the freezer to be assembled closer to the wedding. I find making cakes for important events a few weeks ahead and freezing them leads to a denser, moister cake that both holds up better under the stresses of fancy decorating and also ends up being tastier than cake baked right before decorating.
On the Tuesday night before our Friday wedding, I pulled the cake layers from the freezer and let them thaw slowly downstairs. Wednesday morning, I made a big batch of coconut cream cheese filling. It was an unrehearsed, non-recipe attempt, and it turned out beautifully; very flavourful and not too sweet. I had to work against the heat outside in my little house sans air conditioning, but I mananged to fill, stack and crumb coat the two tiers without incident. I put them in the downstairs fridge, which I’d cranked to near-Arctic lows, and waited for everything to harden up.
Monday night before the wedding, I made gum paste flowers and leaves to decorate the wedding cake. I tinted the paste pink, coral, and teal to match the colours we were using for the wedding, staining my hands a lovely shade of blue in the process. The nerve damage in my hands slowed me down more than I anticipated, so building all the flowers and fru-fru ended up being an all-night job. With the growing heat outside, working through the night was actually more productive as well, since heat and humidity make working gum paste harder.
My poor Electrician did not know what the heck I was planning with all the little sugar flowers, and I think he thought I’d truly lost the plot when I asked him to run the beaters while I tinted a vat of buttercream apple green. He was very pleased with the final result, but I know he had a few hours of wondering what the heck I was up to.
I iced the cakes with buttercream frosting, tinted our favourite green, which was lightly flavoured with real vanilla and fake almond, since genuine nut extracts are never a good idea for allergic folks like my dad. While many people choose fondant to cover wedding cakes, I decided to finish our cake with a coating that actually tastes yummy. Fondant is of the devil: I refuse to serve it to people I like. I would much rather invest the extra time to enrobe a cake in buttercream than drape it with nasty almost marshmallowy fondant, which reminds me of a too-sweet raincoat. Thus endeth my rant about the evils of fondant. I also may have given the Coles Notes version to the woman at Bulk Barn when she tried to sell me discounted fondant while I shopped for food colouring.
After way too many hours on my feet in the kitchen, the cake was complete, albeit still in separate tiers. I decided to transport the thing in two pieces due to the heat and my desire to not lose my mind the day before our wedding. I doweled each layer to prevent sliding and created a dowel base in the bottom tier to help it support the weight of the top piece when the time came. I borrowed an extra Tupperwear cake thinger from my momma and, after a night in the very cold basement fridge, attempted to place each tier in its protective plastic dome.
In a turn of events that nearly pushed me over the edge, the top tier was half an inch too tall for the cake taker, and the bottom one was half an inch too wide. Cue the buttercream-inspired cussing. Luckily, I am blessed with a great improviser for a (now) husband, and we managed to modify a cardboard box to hold the bottom tier and snugged the top tier into a drawer stolen out of the fridge. After some quick work with scotch tape and saran wrap, the cakes seemed road-worthy.
Driving four hours with the air conditioning running on “ice cube” is colder than it sounds. The Electrician and I suffered through the chilly trip with visions of the slumped cake that would result from turning down the AC keeping us going. Besides, we had our love to keep us warm, right?
I made the final assembly, aided by the piping bag of green buttercream I took “to go” on our icy road trip, in the wine cooler of the restaurant where we would eat our wedding dinner the next day. Part of me struggled to believe the whole thing was there, lovely, and complete, after all the time I spent worrying about it leading up to the wedding weekend. I probably had every version of the “smashed cake” or “dropped cake” or “something dropped on the cake” dream in existence.
After all this writing, I suppose I should share the photos I snapped of our little green cake before The Electrician and I sliced into it. There will, I’m certain, be better photos of the thing when I get the final work back from our photographer, but this is what I have for now. I’m pleased with how it turned out, and it went nicely with our quite vintage but just a little bit funky wedding.